'Dexter': Meet Julia Stiles

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Dexter is a waiting game. Seasons begin with transitional episodes, which can be interesting or funny but never heart-pounding thrillers that define the late-season highlights. Remember last season's initial suburban capers? Total yawners compared to the breathtaking Mitchell family Thanksgiving dinner nine episodes in.

This week we may be moving into the dramatic Phase 2. This phase announces itself with a name, a face, and even a whimper. In the episode's final seconds, we encounter the battered presence of Julia Stiles. She witnessed Dexter kill her captor, an entertainingly deranged Boyd Fowler, who picked up dead animals for a living, killed young women for fun, and listened to self-help tapes for motivation.

Most of the episode had, up till then, been vaguely routine if decent: Dexter hires a nanny for baby Harrison and is still bummed out about losing his family ("Emptiness wasn't always a problem"); Angel suffers career backlash from a bar fight in a decidedly extraneous plot turn; Masuka inspires even more hilarity than usual (Highlights: "This man is a knight in shining armor. You should be polishing his lance" and later joking that the Kyle Butler sketches resemble Justin Bieber); and then the by-the-numbers investigation into some Santa Muerte cult in a Venezuelan neighborhood, and...you know...standard Dexter stuff.

And then there's Julia.

Or more specifically, Julia's eyes, staring through the grate above the door as Dexter sinks his knife into Boyd Fowler. The character—still nameless at the moment—barely looks like Julia Stiles at first glance, grubby and confused and as far from the days of 10 Things I Hate About You as can be. Dexter rushes to reassure her and contain the situation, self-conscious about the knife in his yellow-gloved, psycho-steady hands. His closing thoughts sum up the dilemma: She saw everything. She saw...me.

Indeed. And her sneak peak raises several questions in a season building with them:

First and foremost, how will Dexter ensure Stiles' character remains quiet? A potential victim of Boyd Fowler, she seems quite innocent and will likely want to run to the police after what was bound to be a traumatic experience trapped in his attic. Based on the previews, Dexter may resort to holding her captive—not exactly good for his PR, especially with fellow cops suspicious.

How does she view Dexter? Pre-season buzz suggested love would flourish between the two. Perhaps in her captivity, his ritual stabbing translated not so much as psycho as hero? His actions likely saved her life.

Will Stiles survive the season? She'd be the first character to witness Dexter's true nature and live. Past deceased include foster father Harry Morgan (suicide over the trauma), brother Brian Moser (killed by Dexter), Sergeant Doakes (killed by Lila for Dexter), ex-lover Lila (killed by Dexter), short-lived BFF Miguel Prado (killed by Dexter), and to a lesser extent, the Trinity Killer (also, shocker, killed by Dexter). See a pattern here?

The situation with Stiles creates a new and complicated relationship that could potentially drive the rest of the season with needed momentum after Rita's death and continuing fallout. Much of Dexter is built on tight and suspenseful premises. What if the FBI finds Dexter's bodies? What happens if Dexter ends up befriending the brother of a man he accidentally killed in an unexpected clash? How can Dexter kill a legendary serial killer when the veteran killer may be the only one who understands how to balance a dark passenger and the family life? Dexter's new move promises a refreshingly original turn for the show—has our serial killer finally met a woman with whom he can have romantic and healthy relationship not founded on deception?

Past Dexter recaps:

'Dexter': Why Does The Cast Keep Sleeping Around?

'Dexter' Premiere: The Messes Are Piling Up

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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